As part of their international cooperation agreement signed in 2020, EUROCONTROL’s Maastricht Upper Area Control Centre (MUAC) and DFS Deutsche Flugsicherung GmbH (DFS) have introduced the first package of their large-spectrum airspace optimisation plan – the Cooperative Optimisation of Boundaries, Routes and Airspace (COBRA).
Three COBRA airspace design changes in the airspaces controlled by MUAC, the Karlsruhe Upper Area Control Centre and the Langen Area Control Centre have been active since 7 October 2021. Thanks to the COBRA airspace design, airlines can plan shorter routes themselves in advance and therefore reduce fuel consumption and CO2 emissions. Further adjustments have been implemented to reduce complexity and increase air traffic management efficiency in the complex and dense cross-border area between Belgium, France, Germany and Luxembourg.
Firstly, a new plannable direct northeast-bound route is now available through the TRA Lauter military area. This route, which is mainly used for inbound flights to Frankfurt Airport at times when the military area is not active, will curb delays and cut flight distance by 37 nautical miles. Based on 2019 traffic (average of 23 arrivals into Frankfurt Airport per weekend day), it is estimated that the new route can save up to 703 flight hours, equalling 1,899 tonnes of fuel and 5,977 tonnes of CO2 per year – on weekends only. The additional savings during the week have not yet been taken into account.
Secondly, for traffic cruising above 37,000 feet to the north, another shorter, flight-plannable route is now available through the Lauter TRA military area when it is not active. This alternative route is 16 nautical miles shorter than the previous one. Based on an average of five aircraft per weekend day, it is estimated that the gains on a planning base could amount to 63 flight hours, 169 tonnes of fuel and 532 tonnes of C02 per year – also on weekends only.
Finally, to support these improvements, the boundaries between MUAC and Karlsruhe UAC airspaces have been adjusted to improve routes and flight profiles, simplify procedures, reduce complexity, decrease workload and hence provide more efficient air navigation services.
The operational validation started on 7 October with the expected traffic volumes for 2022+ in mind. The joint efforts of DFS control centres and MUAC to improve the interface will continue. The next COBRA improvement package will focus on the centre of German airspace (controlled by both MUAC and DFS). It is planned for March 2022.
The MUAC/DFS cooperation agreement encompasses a wide range of bilateral initiatives in the area of airspace optimisation, technical cooperation and harmonisation of procedures. This agreement, which is fully in line with the objectives of the Single European Sky, supports the implementation of a uniform European air traffic management system in a part of the continent which hosts some of the largest European airports, densest overflown airspaces and complex military exercise areas.